Bream with garlic, saffron and preserved lemons

“As the Italian say, cook with love and passion. Which I translate as: enjoy it, give it time and patience, and be tender.Niamh Shields

I totally agree. Sometimes, cooking feels like meditation, all the stars aligned. I remember the first time I felt like this. Or perhaps the first time I consciously noticed feeling like this. It was over a big pot of ragu for lasagne. Everything felt just right: calm, complete, whole, balanced. I was happy and connected. And the dish turned out just delicious.

It’s similar with flavours, but the feeling is stronger and shorter. Like a dart of pleasure, a stronger connection, but one that lasts a shorter time. Some combinations just hit the right note. Like a culinary, gustatory G-spot. They’re simply perfect. Such as the flavours in Claudia Roden’s chicken tagine with lemon and olives, which were a springboard for this dish. I thought how well its flavours of lemon, saffron and herbs would go with fish. And then I made it and they did go together  so well.

In the recipe below, I’ve made a fair few changes though: you may notice I omitted the onions and olives, as well as the obvious chicken vs. trout substitution. I also tweaked the quantities of other ingredients, using more garlic, for example.

This dish makes for a perfect speedy dinner. Super-delicious. I’ve made this dish lots of times now, and with different types of white fish. Whole trout is also a particularly good choice – see Notes for the instructions on how to cook it. I normally serve it with couscous or with bulgur. This time, we had our fish alongside a vegetable bulgur pilav. Alternatively, I would have added some lemon juice to the dish to sharpen the flavour, but the pilav was already sharp with the wonderful Turkish tomato paste.

Bream with garlic, saffron and preserved lemon

Bream with garlic, saffron and preserved lemons

SOURCE: Inspired by Claudia Roden’s chicken tagine with lemon and olives from Arabesque, but changed a fair bit


COOKING TIME: 10 – 15 Min


2 tbsp olive oil

3 cloves of garlic, sliced

a pinch of saffron strands

1/4 tsp ground ginger (optional)

2 fillets of bream



50 ml hot water

1/3 of preserved lemon, finely chopped (1 quarter and a half, if the lemon is quartered)

1 tbsp parsley, chopped finely

1 tbsp coriander, chopped finely

Lemon juice to taste (optional)

Season the fish with salt and pepper.

Heat the oil on medium heat, and add garlic. Fry the garlic a little, 30 s to a minute, and then add saffron and the ginger powder if using. Cook until the garlic starts going golden, and the saffron gives the oil its orange hue.

Add the fish, and cook for 2 – 3 minutes on each side, until it’s cooked through. Take care not to overcook the fish – it spoils the dish.

Sprinkle with the preserved lemon and lemon juice, and heat through again.

Stir in the herbs, reserving a little for garnish, and adjust the seasoning and lemon juice. Serve over the bulgur or couscous, pour over the sauce from the pan and garnish with herbs and serve.


This dish works well with other types of fish, too. I love it with trout. I use 1 whole large trout (about 0.45 kg) to serve 2, fry it in the fragrant oil on both sides, and then add about 150 ml hot water. -Cover and cook for for about 10 min or until done.

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